The superlatives are starting to run out.
As Australian super horse Winx won her 25th straight race, to equal the legendary Black Caviar’s record, racing experts, jockeys, even other owners all seemed to agree on one thing: “She’s getting better.”
As she turned for home in the Queen Elizabeth stakes at Randwick racecourse in Sydney, the job was certainly in front of the six-year-old.
The leader Gailo Chop surged clear and jockey Hugh Bowman had the entire field in front of her.
But Bowman, who has partnered Winx for all but two of her record-equaling run, wasn’t worried.
“I know I’ve got the engine to round them up,” explained Bowman, “but I can’t do it on my own, Ambitious made a bit of a mid-race move, which fortunately played into my hands.
“The bottom line is she’s got 10 to 12 lengths on her rivals. It makes it easy for me.”
As Bowman knew she would, when needed Winx found a gear her rivals do not own and she went clear to win by about four lengths from Gailo Chop and Happy Clapper.
Like all the greatest horse Winx runs for fun, the same as the great American champion of the Depression, Seabiscuit.
Seabiscuit’s jockeys, including the one and only Red Pollard, would always let another horse pull up alongside her so Seabiscuit could see he had an opponent – then he would take off scorching the opposition.
Winx likes to give the rest of the field a head-start. Just to give herself a bit of a challenge.
Bowman only had to use the whip once on the run home.
A little whisper in the ear to say: “Time to go.” Winx only needs to be told once.
Then when Winx made her move, the crowd went with her — as did millions more watching around Australia.
Winx fever, like Black Caviar before her, has gripped the nation.
As Bowman explains: “You can only get the best out of her when she’s running against the best.”
As leading local racing writer Ray Thomas described it: “This was the moment. The champion mare was racing for history and she wasn’t about to let anyone down.”
Winx, you see likes to put on a show, rising to the big moment.
“She’s just an exceptional athlete, she creates so much attention, I’m just so elated, I’m so proud of her and I’m just so proud to be a part of it.”
“There’s so many cogs to the wheel and I know I get the dream ride here today… if something went wrong it wouldn’t be a good place to be, but she’s so exceptional, she is able to overcome everything and what a pleasure she is for sport.”
Winx has done so much for racing in the nation over the last two years.
Australians love a winner and Winx is one of the greatest.
She has helped to re-popularise the sport in a crowd sporting marketplace – and more importantly begun to win over a whole new generation of fans.
The racing fraternity, although tired of losing to her, are secretly grateful.
But what makes Winx so good. Like Seabiscuit she is beatable, or she used to be.
She started her racing career on June 2014 with three victories, then from September 2014 to May 2015 she won just one of seven races – and perhaps her racing days may have been over.
But then on May 16, 2015 in a Group 3 race for three-year-olds, on the Sunshine Coast (of all places), partnered by Larry Cassidy she began the run of 25 which has captured the attention of the world and taken her the ranking of No1 horse in the world – currently tied with the now-retired Gun Runner.
So what makes this sire of Dubawi, with dam Northern Mischief, so good?
The competitive spirit certainly plays a part – as does the cadence.
“She has a little weird quirk,” says famous Aussie trainer Richard Freedman.
“Most racehorses when they get to the gallop gait, their cadence stays about the same, but they lengthen stride to accelerate, so it’s about the lengthening of stride.
“Her cadence gets quicker. In a given 200 metres, she’ll take more strides.
“She just accelerates her cadence, and other horses just can’t do that.”
Dr Graeme Putt, a University of Auckland academic who has studied the science of racehorse success, agress.
Every minute Winx is in full motion she takes 170 strides. That’s 30 more than the average racehorse, with each one about seven metres in length.
It’s an unusual formula for a champion sprinter, especially when compared to the sport’s greats like Black Caviar and Phar Lap, each with a stride length close to 8.5m.
“Many think the horse with a bigger stride will always win,” says Putt.
“The extraordinary ability Winx has is her ability to change stride length and frequency at will that her current rivals don’t have,”.
“This means she can settle or accelerate at any time during a race. I think this makes her unique.”
Whatever the reason – Winx is a winner, no doubt about that.
Around the globe everyone is fascinated by Godolphin – in and out of the racing world.
According to distinguished The Times racing journalist Marc Souster, who was in the Emirate for the Dubai World Cup, it’s “a fascination aroused by its vast wealth, influence, success, and mystique.”
And after the stunning performance at the Dubai World Cup on Saturday, with Godolphin taking out four races on the day, including Thunder Snow‘s thrilling win in the Dubai World Cup itself, there is now even more interest.
But behind the scenes the past year has seen unprecedented change.
John Ferguson, the CEO for the last 20 years, departed in June last year. Then last week it was revealed that Joe Osborne, the new CEO, would be reverting to his former post as managing director of Godophin’s Ireland operations.
From now on the famous royal blue silk’s racing and breeding entities in Britain, Ireland, Australia, America and Japan will be autonomous organisations run by individual directors and a board.
As Souster revealed “these various entities will report to Hugh Anderson, managing director of the UK operation, who will act as a global filter for reports and information.”
A committee will also be set-up in Dubai, comprised of Emirati experts, which will provide further advice to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and his wife HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussain.
What is clear is that the days of a sole chief executive having the same level of authority as Ferguson have finished. Ultimate decision-making, as always, will reside with Dubai’s ruler and the insightful Princess Haya, who exerts a considerable day-to-day influence at Godolphin.
As Souster notes, “the feeling in Dubai was that Ferguson’s involvement began to feel like a throwback to a bygone era when the emirate was emerging from its protectorate status in 1971.”
“Godolphin is about Dubai and its ruler’s vision for its place in a world order being rapidly redefined.”
“Sheikh Mohammed has decided that going back to his roots is the best way forward.”
And as Saturday night’s majestic triumphs displayed, his vision is working. Godolphin also won a record-equaling 18 group one races last season, after a few leaner years.
Sheikh Mohammed has also brought closer to the fold a number of key trusted advisers, people who were there when Godolphin was founded in 1992 and before, including John Gosden, Simon Crisford, André Fabre, Anthony Stroud and David Loder.
“In them Sheikh Mohammed sees people whom he can trust and who abide by his tenets of discretion and loyalty” adds Souster.
HRH also has a wonderful successor waiting in the wings, his popular son Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, so the success is only set to continue.
The Emirates Equestrian Centre (EEC) will host the UAE leg of the 2018 FEI World Dressage Challenge on April 6, when some of the country’s top horses and riders are expected to compete.
The aim of this competition is to nurture local talent and offer UAE-based riders the opportunity to compete in an international dressage competition without having to travel outside the country.
FEI international dressage judges travel across the globe to rank competitors based on their performance. Each country is placed in a zone with the same judge visiting every country in that zone. Points earned through the FEI World Dressage Challenge count towards a global ranking for individuals and teams.
The competition is currently divided into 12 geographical zones between four and six countries. Participants will compete at different levels including Intermediate I, Prix St-Georges, FEI Junior team competition, FEI children individual and the FEI Children team competition (riders aged between 12-16 years).
The UAE’s best performance at this event came in 2012, when the team claimed the world title. Since then, they have performed strongly, while maintaining their position within the top 15. In 2017, they finished 14th in the team event.
For the first time, the 2018 World Dressage Challenge will act as a qualifying competition for the Central American and Caribbean Games, which will take place in Barranquilla, Colombia, from July 20 through to August 3.
“We are looking forward to hosting the exciting FEI world Dressage Challenge once again. This is the 21st year we are hosting the competition and it has been fantastic to follow the development of dressage here in UAE during all these years,” said Lilian Sternvad, dressage coordinator at EEC
“I rode in the FEI World Dressage Challenge for the first time in 2002 and have been the show organiser since 2003 and I have been witness to the wonderful journey so far and I am proud to have played a small part in it.
“The UAE has gone from position 46 of 48 counties participating in the year 2000, to being number one in 2012, to then staying solid in the top 15 of 58 countries since then. This shows that we have a robust system for training and development that brings new riders and horses on for the future.”
Mohammed Essa Al Adhab, general manager of Dubai Equestrian Club, which oversees all operations at EEC, added: “We are always excited to host international events at the Emirates Equestrian Centre and the FEI World Dressage Challenge is a significant competition for us.
“It is geared towards supporting our local riders and also providing opportunities for national officials to gain experience by officiating alongside experienced FEI Judges. We expect a high level of competition this year and we invite fans of the sport to come support local athletes and enjoy a great day out at our facility.”